Freethought Today · Vol. 26 No. 1 January/February 2009

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF Oath Challenge

FFRF Part of Inaugural Prayer, Oath Challenge

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Once more, Michael Newdow is performing an invaluable public service for the cause of separation between religion and government. Newdow’s litigation, still ongoing, to challenge the addition of “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, educated an entire nation about the secular origins of the pledge, and the insidious religious campaign in the 1950s to inject religion into government.

Newdow’s third legal challenge of inaugural prayers and the addition of “so help me God” into the secular presidential oath was filed on Dec. 30, 2008. This lawsuit is educating media, politicians and judges about our country’s secular history and origins.

Read Mike’s blockbuster Legal Complaint at: ffrf.org/news/2008/ inaugurationComplaint.php

Or read more at Mike’s website: restorethepledge.com

Freethought Today excerpts portions of the Complaint below:

Legal Complaint by Michael Newdow

INTRODUCTION

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ”

The United States Supreme Court has extended the ambit of these words to include any governmental actor.

In explaining the Establishment Clause, the Supreme Court has stated, “[t]he touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the ‘First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’ ” It is clearly not neutral when the government places “so help me God” in its oaths or sponsors prayers to God, knowing that some individuals believe that God does not exist.

The Supreme Court has similarly claimed that “The government may not . . . lend its power to one or the other side in controversies over religious authority or dogma.” By placing “so help me God” in its oaths and sponsoring prayers to God, government is lending its power to one side of perhaps the greatest religious controversy: God’s existence or nonexistence.

The Supreme Court has stated that the Establishment Clause requires a “purpose” analysis, which “aims at preventing the relevant governmental decision maker . . . from abandoning neutrality and acting with the intent of promoting a particular point of view in religious matters.” There can be no purpose for placing “so help me God” in an oath or sponsoring prayers to God, other than promoting the particular point of view that God exists.

The Supreme Court has looked at the “effects” of government activity, especially in terms of “endorsement” of any religious dogma, and agreed that “an important concern of the effects test is whether the symbolic union of church and state effected by the challenged governmental action is sufficiently likely to be perceived by adherents of the controlling denominations as an endorsement, and by the nonadherents as a disapproval, of their individual religious choices.” That the effect of placing “so help me God” in its oaths and sponsoring prayers to God has been perceived by adherents of Monotheism as an endorsement of their individual religious choices is unequivocal. A member of the Supreme Court, itself–joined by two of his colleagues–has used those very actions to contend that government may assist “the overwhelming majority of religious believers in being able to give God thanks and supplication as a people, and with respect to our national endeavors,” and that “the Establishment clause . . . permits the disregard of devout atheists.” . . .

Furthermore, the remaining Defendants will bring to the inauguration of the President–the grandest ceremony in our national existence–two chaplains to extol the glory of God. This is the case even though the Supreme Court has specifically pronounced that “the religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Plaintiffs are American “humanists,” “freethinkers” and/or atheists, who sincerely believe that there is no such thing as god, or God, or any supernatural force. On the contrary, under their belief system(s), “supernatural” is an oxymoron. . . .

Plaintiffs . . . contend that the “real meaning” of these declarations goes far beyond that unconstitutional “benignity,” for they contain an element analogous to the “real meaning” of the “separate but equal” laws of our nation’s earlier history and tradition.

Specifically, the “real meaning” is that atheists are “so inferior and so degraded” that their religious views warrant no respect.

That “real meaning” has been exhibited time and again in our past. Congress, itself, when it interlarded the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God” in 1954, specifically noted that it was acting “to deny . . . atheistic . . . concepts.”

It is well known that Defendant Roberts is a Catholic. In Catholicism, many similar examples of the “real meaning” of proclamations of God’s glory and/or importance exist. For instance, in a relatively recent encyclical, the Pope spoke of how he had “frequently and with urgent insistence denounced the current trend to atheism which is alarmingly on the increase.”

Along these same lines, Defendant Rev. Rick Warren has repeatedly asserted, “I could not vote for an atheist because an atheist says, ‘I don’t need God.’ “

Perhaps most importantly, the “real meaning” is stated in the Holy Bible, which will be used during the inaugural ceremonies. That book calls anyone who is an atheist a “fool,” while further making the outlandish, degrading and insulting declarations that Atheists “are corrupt, . . . have done abominable works, [and] there is none that doeth good.”

It doesn’t end there. That book decrees that Plaintiffs “shall surely be put to death!” . . .

The prayers given for the past eighteen inaugural ceremonies, spanning only the past 72 years, have been constitutionally sectarian inasmuch as they endorsed the idea that there exists a god, which is a religious view adhered to by only a portion of the American people.

In addition to constitutional sectarianism, prayers given over the past 72 years have demonstrated colloquial sectarianism as well, by including patently Christian prayer at every inauguration since the unconstitutional practice of including clergy to pray at presidential inaugurations began in 1937. . . .

As it is, atheists are the most despised minority in the land. Plaintiffs contend that it is the sort of government-sponsored activity at issue in this case–i.e., where the “power, prestige and financial support” of government is placed behind Monotheism–that stigmatizes them and perpetuates, if not instigates, this situation. . . .

CAUSES OF ACTION

The oath of office for the President of the United States is specified in the Constitution’s Article II, Section 1. In its entirety, it reads:

‘’I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’’

It is to be noted that the words, “so help me God” are not included in this oath. That “so help me God” was added to the presidential oath by George Washington is a myth. There is no contemporaneous account supporting this claim, which was first made in 1854, apparently on the basis of a recollection of Washington Irving. Irving was six years old in 1789, when the first inaugural was held. A historical claim based upon nothing but the alleged recollection of a six year old, first made more than six decades later, is of highly questionable validity. Combined with the fact that Irving’s report of where he was standing during the inauguration would have made it impossible for him to have heard the oath at all, that validity falls to zero. In fact, it isn’t until 1881, ninety-two years after George Washington’s initial ceremony, that the first use of the “so help me God” phrase can be verified. That occurred when Vice President Chester A. Arthur took the oath upon hearing of President James Garfield’s death.

The phrase, if used at all during the next half century, was apparently used only intermittently until 1933, at President Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration. (It is known that neither President Herbert Hoover nor Chief Justice William Howard Taft used those words at Hoover’s inauguration in 1929.)

Since 1933, “so help me God” has been used at every public inaugural ceremony, with that unauthorized alteration interposed each time by the Chief Justice of the United States. . . .

“Not until January 20, 1937, was a prayer offered as an official part of the American ceremony of inauguration.”

Furthermore, of the nation’s 57 public presidential inaugurations, 39 were devoid of clergy-led prayers. Only 18 included them.

On January 20, 2009, the nation’s next inaugural ceremony is scheduled to take place. Presidential inaugurals are the Nation’s grandest official ceremonies, intended to unite our citizens and to instill confidence in our Constitutional system of government.

Interlarding those ceremonies with clergy who espouse sectarian religious dogma does not unite, but rather divides, our citizenry. Similarly, instead of instilling confidence in our governmental structure, it tears at the very foundation upon which that structure is built. . . .

Michael Newdow talks about the lawsuit on Freethought Radio’s first broadcast of the year (Jan. 3, 2009).

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